The Defence digital strategy – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: The Defence digital strategy

Date Published: 3 February 2023

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The Ministry of Defence (the Department) is not well set up to implement digital change at pace and scale, and must fundamentally change the way it operates to do so. While it has put in place a new digital strategy which acknowledges and seeks to address this, the Department does still not have a delivery plan which will allow it to track and measure its performance effectively.

The Department operates a vast digital estate comprising over 2,000 systems and applications for 200,000 users, ranging from administrative and back-office IT to military platforms such as ships and satellites. Much of this estate is made up of legacy systems, with the Department’s central Defence Digital organisation having estimated in 2019 that it would need to spend £11.7 billion updating or replacing legacy systems over the following decade. Since then, the Department has struggled to deliver the major programmes which are designed to replace these systems. Of the five whose performance is reported publicly by the Infrastructure Projects Authority in its 2021–22 annual report, it found three had significant issues (‘amber’) and two were unachievable (‘red’).

One of the key delivery issues the Department must address is filling critical gaps in its digital personnel and upskilling current military and civilian staff. The Department struggles with the pay it can offer candidates, the location of some of its posts, and the extended security vetting times needed for new entrants, which in some instances can take over 200 days.

The rapid deployment and exploitation of new technology is now at the very heart of the defence of the realm, and the urgency of this challenge is demonstrated by the current conflict in Ukraine. If the Department is to get to grip with these large and pressing challenges and successfully deliver the objectives of its new strategy by 2025, organisational and cultural change must be required. As an early ‘down payment’ on this, the Department’s digital action plan, now expected in April 2023, must display a genuine sense of urgency to address these serious issues, accompanied by a thorough, realistic and costed programme for doing so.